Aw hell...I'm struggling to remember what was released this year, let alone over the last five. This list is probably missing some of the best and most important pieces from the last five years, and the order is by no means solid. But, for now:
10. Razorlight - Up All Night
Give it a year and this, Razorlight's 2004 debut album, may have climbed further into my top ten. Or it may have dropped out altogether. Either way, at the moment, it rocks. Sounding rawer and more stripped down than most of the rest of the current indie movement, Johnny Borrell easily makes up for occassional blips in the songwriting with overpowering charisma and an obvious ear for a good pop tune.
Highlight: Somewhere Else may have been an addition on the 2005 rerelease, but it's the best thing on here by a mile.
9. Divine Comedy - Absent Friends
Thank God Regeneration was only a brief indulgence for the incomparable Neil Hannon. On Absent Friends, the Divine Comedy go quickly back from whence they came - writing hugely melodramatic, gorgeously instrumentalised and textured ballads with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek humour and knowing cultural references. Never too serious, only occassionally too silly, this is the real return to form. Recalls a more grown up version of Promenade; which, coming around a decade after should really be expected.
Highlight: Our Mutual Friend. Remember how good Frog Princess sounded the first time? This is it, in repeat listening.
8. Franz Ferdinand - Franz Ferdinand
In 2003, all pop-rock seemed to be going the Coldplay route. Piano-driven, with just the right - or wrong - amount of gushing sentiment and vulnerability. Then came Franz Ferdinand and, without wishing to put too much of their achievements down to one song, that guitar riff. Suddenly, in pubs and student areas up and down the country, you could hear one thing: "Da-da-da-da-da-da-daa, da-da-da-da-da-da-daa, da-da-da-da-da-da-daa, d-d-d-d-d-da, TAKE ME OUT". Fuck, it was cool. And it still is. Beyond that one, obvious highlight, the eponymous debut from these young, Scottish popsters has greater depth and intelligence than many older and more experienced songsmiths. They said their aim was to make people dance. They nailed it.
Highlight: Take Me Out - need I have said?
7. As Heard On Soulwax Radio pt 2. - 2 Many DJ's
Not a single self-coined track. No massive singles. No Great airplay. No club fillers. And yet, somehow, this 2-DJ combo created probably the greatest party record since Basement Jaxx gave us Rooty. Intelligent, rocking, funny, surprising and engaging all at the same time. It kicks into life with a hidden track 4:30 minute prior to the 0:00 mark with a massively disjointed Can't Get You Out Of My Head which kicks effortlessly into the outstanding Peter Gunn (live)/Where's Your Head At mash up. Right there, it grabs your balls, and it never lets go. Exemplary dance music.
Highlight: Either the opener, or the Skee-Lo I Wish a capella bit at around 40:00. Brilliant.
6. David Bowie - Heathen
Probably some bias here, but Heathen still sounds marvellous. Grown-up in the way Reality never was and packed with enough good tunes to counter the more serious business of 'real' Bowie songs, such as the brilliant opener Sunday, or the equally epic closer, Heathen (The Rays. It isn't Bowie's best by a long shot. But it's clearly his best of the 00s.
Highlight: Heathen (The Rays) - it's the way you'd want a 50-year-old Bowie to sound.
5. Martin Grech - Open Heart Zoo
If this had been Radiohead's follow-up to Kid A it would've been hailed as the unsurpassable best album of the 00s. As it happens, an 18-year old A-Level student brought it out and, with his curious falsetto and counter-tenor vocal stylings juxtaposed against heavy-then light-then heavy accompaniments, it really was a joy. Over-reaching, and lacking in tunes it may have been, but for pure musicality, vision and effect it's pretty unmatchable. And it isn't diminished at all by repeat listenings. Superb.
Highlight: Penicillin - sounding as much like Radiohead as Grech ever does, he pulls off a song Yorke and co. would've been proud of.
4. Radiohead - Hail To The Thief
From disciple to master, though. It's difficult to predict where Radiohead are going to go these days. In 2000, it would probably have been safe to say they were going to stick in the Ok Computer mould. But along came Kid A instead, and suddenly Radiohead could've been heading anywhere. Continuing in the Kid A trend with Amnesiac, it would then have seemed sensible to bet on Radiohead going further down the experimental path. Instead, they released the record that sounded like it was written to bridge the gap between Ok Computer and Kid A. Equal parts quiet introversion, experimentation and outright songsmanship, Hail To The Thief might just be the essential Radiohead record. There isn't a dud track, and not a single moment passes where something interesting or unexpected isn't heard in either Yorke's delivery or the band's playing. Unique, exciting, interesting and brilliant, Hail To The Thief may not have been as much of a leap as the band had made before, but it's still an amazing record.
Highlight - Myximatosis - paranoid Radiohead mumblings in the best possible sense. Good tune to boot.
3. Outkast - Speakerboxxx/The Love Below
What do you do when hip-hop's all becoming a bit too serious? Stick on some Outkast. Forget the singles Hey Ya!, Roses, I Like The Way You Move and Ghetto Musak (actually, don't, because they're superb), and you're left with two super albums from one great heavyweight of the genre. Big Boi may have the bling-rap down to a tee, forsaking all of the cliches and contrivances which can make contemporaries irritating, and leaving you with a distilled rap the like of which is barely seen anymore, but Andre 3000 is an undisputed musical genius. Superb wordsmithery, excellent tunes, knowing humour and an unequalled ear for effect characterise his half of this double album. Big Boi's, while not quite so outstandingly magnidicent, is still a brilliant genre piece. Add in some great guest spots on each album (Kelis is predictably great) and you're left with a real, stunning musical achievement.
Put the singles back in, and it gets even better.
Highlight: Andre's She Lives In My Lap - here's how to be effortlessly cool.
2. Ute Lemper - Punishing Kiss
Take one part beautiful, dominatrix-looking German, one part ouststanding voice and two parts superb cover versions, and you get this: the most amazing female-vocals album in years. It fits it all in here: humour, seduction, death, melancholy, cruelty, loneliness and Kurt Weill. What more could you want in an album? Add in Neil Hannon/Joby Talbot at the top of their respective games, and the fact that this album came as a complete surprise, and you're left with one of the masterpieces of the decade thus far. It's underrated, and you probably won't have heard it. But by God, you should have by now.
Highlight: Nick Cave's Little Water Song. So beautiful, so sad and oh-so-well delivered.
1. - Tom Waits - Alice
Released at the same time as Blood Money, but almost entirely consisting of music previously used for a Germans tage production, Alice is about as inspired as modern music making gets. Jazzy, minimalist, nonsensical, melodic and utterly, utterly bemusing, this is quintessential Waits. His unmistakable growl fits the music and lyrics perfectly, and the dark, seedy mood that exists throughout the album compliments both his style and the twisted Lewis Carroll vision of Alice in Wonderland completely. Very rarely has cabaret/jazz music been so effective on so many levels and yet here, in Alice is possibly the masterpiece of the first decade of the 21st Century. Amazing, unrelenting, beautiful and jagged. This is music at its best.
Highlight: The title track. Just amazing.
I could stay if you asked me,
So for God's sake don't ask me to stay